Stewart Softens Tone, Shifts Focus From Immigration to Economy

Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart.
Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart. (Tracy A Woodward - The Washington Post)
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By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Virginia Republican Corey A. Stewart built his reputation as a combative ideological firebrand who wanted to tackle head-on the quandary of illegal immigration.

But over the past several months, home values have plummeted, state Republicans have suffered repeated electoral defeats and the public has become consumed by economic concerns. So Stewart, the pugnacious chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, began setting his sights on a new mission: navigating Republican loyalists out of the immigration debate with the same vigor he used to help draw them into it.

Stewart's approach is to push Republicans away from their emphasis on social issues and back in the direction of pocketbook concerns. Stewart, once the leading voice on tackling immigration, now carries a mantra of lower taxes to gatherings of statewide Republicans, to lawmakers in Richmond and to the board chambers where he helps guide county policy. And he has championed it in a manner unfamiliar to many who clashed with him on immigration.

"Some people like a combative politician," Stewart said. "More like the politician who gets things done. That's the superior qualification. That's what I want to be known for."

Last year, Stewart boasted that statewide and local lawmakers needed someone to "beat up on them." That tone is gone.

"I've gradually learned that the role of the chairman is as consensus-builder, and that's something that has not been a strong suit for me," said Stewart, 40, who represented the Occoquan District on the board before being elected chairman. "My mind-set has changed a little bit. When you are a district supervisor, it's easy to be a bomb-thrower and not worry about the consequences."

The chairman has invited supervisors out for one-on-one lunches over the past few months. He held a get-together for the board at the upscale Homestead resort during the annual Virginia Association of Counties meeting in November. And in December he hosted a Christmas party for board members and their families at his home.

Rather than headline a recent press conference solo, he asked Supervisor John D. Jenkins (Neabsco), the longest-serving board member and one of only two Democrats, to share the microphone.

"There is no reason to posture for anything right now," Maureen S. Caddigan (R-Dumfries) said. "There are no positions for him to run for, so it's a good time to work together and govern."

Stewart is not only intent on changing his image with colleagues. He is attending ribbon-cuttings and community meetings and speaking at events, such as the recent police academy graduation, the first one he has gone to in his five years in office. At times, he is finding it difficult to shake his ties to anti-illegal-immigration efforts.

After Stewart talked to the police recruits about the county's "reputation as a trailblazing community," Police Chief Charlie T. Deane stepped to the microphone with unusually pointed remarks.

Deane said resident satisfaction with the police department decreased in the county's annual survey last year, most prominently among the Hispanic community.

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